February 22nd, 2013 | by AARON MESH News | Posted In: Activism, City Hall, Housing, PDX News, Transportation

State Appeals Board Yanks Permit for No-Parking Apartment Complex on Division Street

lede_3846(hassle)STREET HASSLE: Homeowners (from left) Richard Melo, Judah Gold-Merkel and Elisabeth Varga have formed a volunteer group to fight big apartments in the Richmond neighborhood. They’re sitting in front of Wafu—on a deck built over a street-parking space. - nataliebehring.com

 The State of Oregon's Land Use Board of Appeals has reversed the City of Portland building permit for an 81-unit apartment complex with no on-site parking on Southeast Division Street.

The appeals board's Feb. 20 ruling means Beaverton-based developer Dennis Sackhoff must halt construction on the 37th Street Apartments—a project that is underway, and already stands four stories tall.

Opponents of the apartment complex are asking Mayor Charlie Hales to block another building permit until neighbors get a say in the project's design.

"The ruling goes to show that arrogance doesn't always get rewarded," says Richard Melo, one of the neighbors who filed the appeal. "The builder pushed building codes to the limit to maximize profitability, and not only did he refuse to address the concerns of the neighbors but continued construction of the building while the legal case was pending."

The site at 3701 SE Division Street used to be home to the Egyptian Room, an ivy-covered lesbian bar. As WW reported last September, the project has galvanized opposition from neighbors concerned about an apartment complex with bicycle racks on every floor but not a single automobile parking space.

Melo hopes other neighborhood groups will file similar appeals against no-parking apartment projects popping up across Portland.

"This sends a message that citizens cannot be excluded when it comes to shaping the future of our neighborhoods," he says.

The appeals board ruling is also a defeat for the City of Portland, which argued the permit it issued Sackhoff was legal.

Last summer, opponents of the development formed a coalition called Richmond Neighbors for Responsible Growth, arguing to the city that the apartment complex would cause traffic and parking congestion, wreck the quiet landscape of the street, and become “a dormitory without a college.”

The city rejected their complaint. And the state appeals board ruling isn't based on any of those points.

Instead, the board revoked Sackhoff's permit because the main residential entrance to the apartment complex is more than five feet away from the facade facing Division Street—which violates the zoning code for the Main Street Overlay Zone. (The apartment entrance is planned for the 37th Avenue side of the complex instead.)

Sackhoff and the city can appeal the reversal by showing that code can be met with minor changes to the permit application. But the appeals board noted that meeting code would probably require "more than insignificant changes" to the plans.

After a summer of public outcry, the city's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability suggested changes earlier this month to the zoning code. The new rules would increase parking requirements for large apartment projects.

But Judah Gold-Markel, one of the neighbors fighting the 37th Street Apartments, says he expects Sackhoff to apply for a new building permit, since the development is already well underway.

He and other members of Richmond Neighbors for Responsible Growth are asking City Council—including Hales, who campaigned on changing rules allowing big developments without parking—to stop the city from issuing a second permit.

"This is a huge victory for us," says Gold-Markel, "but it is by no means the end."

Sackhoff has not yet replied to WW's request for comment. 

UPDATE, 8:45 am: The appeals board's reversal of a building permit for the 37th Street Apartments hasn't stopped construction workers from continuing to build this morning. Melo sent WW this photo at 7:53 am:

Workers continue construction Friday morning on the 37th Street Apartments.
Richard Melo

 Neighbors have begun calling City Hall, demanding that the Bureau of Development Services put a halt to construction until Dennis Sackhoff gets a new permit.

UPDATE, 5 pm: The city has ordered Sackhoff to halt construction. More here.

 
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